Le Monde: Why has the G20 made a priority of the partnership with Africa?
Wolfgang Schäuble: The past few years have shown us just how major the geopolitical risks associated with economic development are. This is especially true when it comes to Africa: It holds a key position in the global economy, both because of its potential and because of the risks it harbours. The G20 initiative has met with a very positive response in African countries. It is a long-term initiative that will remain on the G20 agenda since Argentina has pledged to continue the project when it takes over the G20 presidency from Germany.
Le Monde: What precisely does the initiative involve?
Wolfgang Schäuble: The point of the project is not to adopt a new financial instrument for Africa, but rather to encourage private investment there. On the one hand, we need to draw up a list of development needs and identify useful projects. On the other hand, we need to help set up a regulatory and legal framework that creates a good climate for business. A business-friendly environment is essential to any kind of private investment and it will be the responsibility of the African countries themselves to put their government structures in order. The initiative is being developed in close cooperation with the African countries as well as multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Participation is entirely voluntary, we’re not forcing anything on anybody. I cannot emphasise enough how important this is since the colonial era still looms large.
Le Monde: Some NGOs have criticised the initiative for being too hands-off, precisely because it fails to bring any cash to the table.
Wolfgang Schäuble: The G20 is not the right forum for setting up financial aid packages. There are other channels for that, development cooperation and public development funds for instance. As I said before, this G20 strategy targets private investment. Of course Africa also needs public funds, especially if it is to develop its infrastructure. But private investment can also bring about massive change.
Le Monde: Does France have an important role to play in this initiative?
Wolfgang Schäuble: Yes, France is playing a very active role. I should add that all of our European partners strongly support this project. We are also cooperating with China, India, Indonesia and with South Africa, which is acting as a mediator. As for the rest of the world, Africa must be a space for cooperation, not competition.
Le Monde: How are the participating countries selected?
Wolfgang Schäuble: They themselves apply. The initiative is open to everyone and no one is obliged to join if they don’t want to. Seven countries have already decided to participate: Morocco, Tunisia, Rwanda, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Ethiopia, with three further countries considering putting in an application.
Le Monde: Is it not unfortunate that the first countries to participate – which some say Berlin contacted directly – are among the richest in Africa and relatively well-endowed in terms of private investment?
Wolfgang Schäuble: The first African countries to participate have to make a success of it. If they succeed in making perceptible progress that furthers development, they will set a good example and inspire others to go down the same path. This is why we weighed up which countries could make up the first wave, which countries would be best suited to joining this initiative and making a success of it. However, all countries are invited to take part and we are seeing growing interest for these investment partnerships in Africa. Africa has an active, not a passive, role to play here.
Le Monde: Germany has also announced a Marshall Plan with Africa and German Chancellor Angela Merkel now travels to Africa more frequently. Where does the growing interest come from? Germany does not, traditionally, have a very close connection with Africa.
Wolfgang Schäuble: Africa and Europe are neighbours. Any challenges arising from Africa are thus also challenges for Europe, not just for Germany. If we fail to create the conditions for more stability in Africa, the problems will just grow and grow, and the rest of the world, and in particular Europe, will suffer the consequences. In Germany, the refugee crisis opened our eyes to this. Not taking action is not an option: We need to take on our responsibilities in a world that is becoming ever more closely interconnected. As countries that are stronger than other parts of the world today, politically and economically speaking, we have a duty to offer our help.
Le Monde: Is this also about opening up new markets for German companies?
Wolfgang Schäuble: Development can also benefit German companies, providing it ensures stability. This is part of globalisation: It’s not a zero-sum game, it can benefit everyone, and that applies to Africa, too. And I should add that we Europeans need to be prepared to make our markets more open to more African products.
The interview appeared first in the print edition of Le Monde on 14 June 2017 and was led by Marie de Vergès.